When CNN's Dana Bash asked Kellyanne Conway on Sunday about her husband's habit of tweeting and retweeting criticism of President Trump, the counselor to the president insisted that she would not be expected to answer such a question if she were a man.
Yet after the interview, Conway tweeted that the line of inquiry from Bash, who emceed the National Museum of Women in the Arts spring gala on Friday night, “wasn't sexist; it was cheap & irrelevant.”
Conway seems unable to decide why Bash's question was unfair, which might indicate that it wasn't. Then again, Bash's phrasing did not make clear why Conway ought to answer for her husband's social media activity. So, let's examine the merits.
“I just want to ask you one question that a lot of people are asking me — probably you, too,” Bash said. “And that is, what is up with your husband's tweets? Your husband is a very well-respected lawyer, and he's been sending some tweets that have been critical of the administration. Just an example: In response to a tweet he saw saying President Trump's aides are reluctant to speak for him because he contradicts them later, your husband wrote, 'So true. It's absurd.' ”
Curiosity — even by “a lot of people” — does not, on its own, put a question in bounds. But, in this case, context does.
In the March 23 tweet cited by Bash, George Conway went on to write — with obvious sarcasm — that “people are banging down the doors to be [Trump's] comms director.” He later deleted the tweet.
Just a few weeks earlier, Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News that she has turned down the role of communications director “many times.” Her official explanation of why she does not want the job was, “I work on policy here at the White House.”
George Conway's tweet appeared to reveal another, unvarnished reason: that Trump routinely undercuts his communications aides, making such jobs undesirable.
Did the tweet reflect Kellyanne Conway's true frustrations with her boss? Did it offer a peek at West Wing dysfunction?
The answers could be no. Kellyanne Conway might say that she doesn't talk about work at home and that her husband's tweets contain no inside knowledge of the White House. But it is reasonable for her to be asked “what is up” with his messages.
As for the sexism claim that she quickly reversed, Conway overlooked history when she contended that a man would not be asked about his wife's criticism of the president he served.
In what was probably a coincidence, Trump tweeted a shout-out to Mary Matalin shortly after Conway's appearance on CNN. Matalin, of course, was the deputy campaign manager for President George H.W. Bush's reelection bid in 1992. After Bush lost to Bill Clinton, Matalin married the man who had been Clinton's chief strategist, James Carville.
Matalin remained a Clinton detractor, and Carville faced questions about his wife's views. Interviewing the couple on ABC News in 1994, Sam Donaldson asked Matalin, “Do you think Bill Clinton is having a successful presidency?”
“No,” Matalin replied. “Nobody really knows what he stands for. He stands for something different every single day. How many policies have we had on Haiti, Cuba, Bosnia, you know? We don't have enough fingers and toes to count them.”
“I think it's all a crock of you know what,” Carville said in response, “and I think that this president has, when you — if he were performing under normal circumstances, it would be a magnificent presidency.”
Writing about the Conways earlier this month, Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty recalled Martha Mitchell, the “mouth from the South” who publicly criticized President Richard M. Nixon, despite being married to John Mitchell, Nixon's 1968 campaign manager and, later, attorney general.
Aboard Air Force One in September 1970, Martha Mitchell told reporters that the war in Vietnam “stinks.” A newspaper wire report provided this account of the scene:
While the blond, vivacious Mrs. Mitchell flashed her dimples and bluntly stated her views, the attorney general wandered back to find her. Asked if he would like to hear what his wife had to say, Mitchell, in mock horror, replied: “Heavens, no, I might jump out of the window.”
Defending her question about George Conway's tweets, Bash told Kellyanne Conway, “I would ask you that, if you were a man ... a thousand percent, I would.”
Bash's assertion was consistent with precedent. Conway's objection was, too — in the sense that Trump officials often complain that questions they don't want to answer are “ridiculous,” “insulting” or “inappropriate.”